Why Didn’t Abraham Lincoln Travel?


Abraham Lincoln as a tourism driver is nothing new – history buffs have been making pilgrimages to Washington, D.C., Gettysburg and Abe’s Midwestern stomping grounds for decades, and Springfield, Ill., attributes the majority of its annual $350 million tourism and convention business to the rail-splitter. But actually following in Lincoln’s footsteps doesn’t take a traveler very far.

Lincoln never crossed an ocean, a curiosity that clashes with what we might expect given his means, his intellect and Mary Todd Lincoln’s famous taste for the finer things in life. Despite the difficulties of international travel in the mid-19th century, it wasn’t unheard of. William Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state, made it as far as the Middle East on a fact-finding mission. Benjamin Franklin had darted back and forth between the American colonies, England and France 100 years earlier.

It’s understandable that Lincoln was too preoccupied to travel during his presidency. Still, it’s a bit surprising that by his death in 1865, he hadn’t ventured farther than New Orleans, New York or Missouri.

Leisure travel to Europe wasn’t a popular concept in Lincoln’s time. “It would have been dangerous, for one,” says Dale Ogden, a senior curator at the Indiana State Museum who oversees a significant collection of the Lincoln family’s belongings. “And Europe was in turmoil anyway.”Domestically, the railroads that Lincoln worked for as a lawyer weren’t yet popular options for vacation. Even the train that took the president-elect from Springfield to D.C. on his Whistle-Stop Trip in 1861 wasn’t exactly posh. “Lincoln’s car would have been private as opposed to luxurious,” Ogden says. “I don’t think it would have been particularly unpleasant to travel by rail in 1860s, but it wouldn’t have been even remotely close to what it became 20 years later.” Instead, Lincoln “vacationed” at his summer home in D.C.

Yet travel made a serious impact on Lincoln’s life, an aspect examined in “The Lincolns: Five Generations of an American Family,” an exhibit that recently opened at the Indiana State Museum. He was frequently on the road on horseback as a circuit attorney in Illinois, and the job separated him from his eldest son, Robert, during the child’s formative years. Ogden says this is a primary reason why Lincoln and Robert didn’t have a close bond. “Lincoln was a workaholic,” he says. “The fact that he did travel so much, because of his work, had a major role in the family dynamic.”

The museum holds one of the most comprehensive collections of Lincoln artifacts, and “Five Generations” is only the second exhibit organized from its contents. A few of Mary’s travel accessories, including her opera glasses and ostrich fan, are currently on display, highlighting her trips to Europe after Lincoln’s death.

[Photo credit: Paukrus via Flickr]

Five famous fathers: Visit where they lived with their children

For a Father’s Day nod to famous fathers, it seemed apropos to do a post on Father’s Day travel with a twist. Read a biography of famous men and it may take more than a few paragraphs to get to their children. The children seem tucked in between those details that made a man famous. Regardless how much or how little press is given to the offspring, there are landmarks where these men lived with the people who helped keep their legacies alive.

Although these are the sites we head to to find out about what made these men tick as contributors to the rest of us, they are also the places that children called home, and where the men who might have tucked them in at night were called “Dad” (or “Papa,” or “Father” or “Pops” or some other variation) by those people whose tiny hands they once held in their own.

Here are five men through history who have had an influence on the world and where you can visit where they lived with their children. From humble houses to elaborate palaces, here are five places where you can imagine the varied conversations that happened within the walls–the type that only fathers and children share.

1. Henry VIII (Religion)–Hampton Court Palace, London. This Tudor palace is where King Henry 8th of England, with a penchant for beheading his wives, lived the most. It’s a gorgeous piece of architecture with a fascinating history and a remarkable maze in the garden. Henry’s three children used this palace as a haven after they became adults as well. Son Edward was christened in the chapel and Mary spent her honeymoon here. Henry died when Edward was nine. The two daughters were older. Henry’s desire to divorce his wives led to the England’s shift away from Roman Catholicism.

2. Abraham Lincoln (Politics)–Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Springfield, Illinois. This is a hallmark year to visit the house where Lincoln lived with his family prior to becoming president. Take a guided walk in the neighborhood where Lincoln took strolls, probably with sons Robert, Willie and Tad (son Edward died.) Lincoln brought the North and South back together.

3. Claude Monet (Art)–Monet’s House and Gardens, Giverny, France. Monet moved to this lovely farm with his family and lived here for 43 years. Here he painted is famous works connected to Impressionism and provided a haven of art and creativity for his brood made up of eight children. When you look at Monet’s studio where he painted, inspired by the garden on the property, imagine what his children saw and how the smell of paint and flowers were prominent in their lives.

4. Martin Luther King Jr.(Civil Rights)–Dexter Parsonage Museum, Montgomery, Alabama. Visit the house where Martin Luther King Jr. lived where he was a young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist church. This is where he was living with his four children and wife when someone threw a bomb onto the porch. You can still see the damage. No one was hurt. The house looks as if the King family just stepped outside for a moment. It’s a step back in time for sure. King’s message of equality provides hope and drive to those who are struggling for equal rights. If it wasn’t for him, and those who rallied behind his words, where would we be?

5. Elvis Presley (Music and Popular Culture) Memphis, Tennessee–Graceland. No matter what a person thinks of the over-the-top decor of Graceland, it’s the place where Elvis felt at home and he lived with his wife Priscilla and daughter, Lisa Marie until Priscilla moved out, taking Lisa Marie with her. Still, this is the home where Lisa Marie can still go to remember her dad who made a big time impact on popular culture and music. The photo is of Lisa Marie’s swing set in the back yard.

Happy President’s Day! Tour Abe Lincoln’s Home!

Lincoln's homeLocated in Springfield, Illinois, the home of Abe Lincoln is now a National Historic Site. Free to visit, the modest log cabin home has been restored to its 1860 appearance, expressing Lincoln as a husband, father, and politician.

Generally-speaking, the two-story home — the first and last home the Lincolns ever owned — looks a lot like how you’d expect it to look, with those old-timey fancy carpets; ornate, floor-length draperies; and heavy, wooden furniture. Nevertheless, it’s still beautifully decorated, as you can see from the photos on Flickr (which are far superior to those on the NPS’ site).

After you tour his home, you can hit The Lincoln Museum. Don’t forget, though, that it’s in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

[Photo: bdinphoenix]